24 June 2012

Our Portraits

I finished a poem called Our Portraits. I started it last January after seeing the Francesca Woodman photography retrospective at SFMOMA.

The poem grew from notes I scribbled while processing Francesca Woodman's stunning body of black and white images. That evening, while hunched over the bar at Fino Ristorante on Post Street, I wrote a few lines that eventually grew into the poem. 

The poem was originally titled Dear Francesca because I had intended it to be written in the form of a postcard. I knew the poem would take time to emerge. In the marginalia of my notebook I wrote:
I've added the bottling sugar. I'll wait for it to bubble.
Francesca Woodman and I were photography students during the same years at different schools. We honed the craft of medium-format photography in opposite parts of the country. She at RISD. I at Montana State. 

My journey led me to the mountain west. I imagine Francesca, who went to Boulder High, wanted to go east to RISD. She was pedigreed in fine art. Her father George taught painting and art criticism at CU. Her mother Betty is an internationally known ceramic sculptor.

I was a fine art orphan, but latched on to a few life-saving mentors. I believe some of my more thoughtful images could have stood by Francesca's in a group show. She would have been a friend, although I imagine we would have competed for the attention of our teachers.

Francesca Woodman: House #3, Providence, Rhode Island

I was unfamiliar with Francesca Woodman's work before seeing the SFMOMA exhibit. Our work had obvious similarities -- black and white, medium-format (square) images that were soul-searching and achingly introspective.

Her photographs and life-story have etched a lasting impression. She built a large body of work with thematic consistency which is extraordinary for someone who died so young.

Perhaps she had more than me to prove.

Here is the poem:

Our Portraits
30 January 2012, SFMOMA, San Francisco
for fellow photography student, Francesca Woodman (1958-81) 

We made transient pictures of ourselves

our cable release hidden from view
no definitive light was ever found.

You fixed by suicide at twenty-two

left too few years for a double chin
your tits never sagged from gravity.

I became a sentimental gray beard
a flickering light with so few answers
to the same unanswerable questions.

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